My name is Julie Bañuelos. I am a former DPS teacher who taught for more than 10 years in the District that I hope to represent on the School Board: northwest Denver’s District 5.
Northwest Denver is a vibrant and diverse community. The families in my district deserve a representative who will be a champion for all our students, especially our English Language Learners, our students with disabilities, and our LGBTQ+ youth. The teachers in Denver deserve a representative who understands the rewards as well as the challenges of being in the classroom on a daily basis, making a career out of helping shape the future. I am the best choice to be that representative.
For far too long, proponents of public education have experienced the devastating impact of education “reform.” Standardized testing, the subjective School Performance Framework (SPF), and the School Choice system have been weaponized to shut down neighborhood schools, particularly those in poorer neighborhoods. We’ve seen a loss of respect for the teaching profession, with highly-trained, experienced, and dedicated teachers being replaced by inexperienced, unlicensed ones who often don’t last more than a year or two in the same place.
As a school board member, I am committed to supporting teachers and students by: (1) advocating for the teachers’ right to unionize and bargain collectively, thus ensuring they have competitive wages and optimal working conditions, and (2) advocating for financial transparency, ensuring that taxpayer dollars entrusted to DPS are making their way to the schools and classrooms as intended, so that children have the best possible learning environments.
Several interventions can contribute to a student’s academic development. However, what must first be considered are a students learning abilities, if he/she/they are on an IEP or 504, are they identified as English learners, are they experiencing homelessness and/or is there trauma in the student’s life, what is his/her/their access to basic needs? If so, then provide appropriate, but robust services to support these areas.
Thereafter, monitor if teachers and school are providing accommodations, scaffolding and/or following the designated legal requirements under IEPs, 504s and/or the consent decree. Before and after school tutoring must be available for the student and their families, along with summer school and/or enrichment programs.
Supporting, developing and retaining well-trained teachers, especially teachers of color, starts by paying them salaries that are at par with the cost of living in Denver; respecting teachers enough to provide a school administration team that builds on areas of growth in conjunction with the teacher even when personality conflicts exist; developing a school culture where diversity and cultural competency are essential in team building; hiring teachers that are graduating from our local and in-state colleges and offering incentives to our paraprofessionals to embark on pursuing alternative teaching licensure programs, especially alleviating the costs associated with such endeavors; providing mentors that are supportive and contribute to the professional development of novice teachers during the first two years through an induction program that is both robust and sustainable.
The equity indicator currently used by DPS focuses on achievement related to the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) and teaching to the test. An equity indicator must be extensive enough to improve how marginalized students, specifically free and reduced lunch (FRLs), BIPOCs, and working class students are accessing structures of opportunity and the curriculum within the school and district as a whole, not simply focusing on standardized test results. If the district is committed to educating students, then standardized test results are not an authentic measure of equity; rather, the focus should be on the graduation rates of students of color and the working class membership. An equity score card must be developed. The equity score card would illustrate how students of color and in high FRL schools are accessing curriculum, are graduating and if the district is comprehensively funding their schools.
School choice presented students and families with the idea of options that opened up unique school models/programs throughout the city that would otherwise not be offered in the traditional DPS system. Unfortunately, school choice is coupled with the School Performance Framework (SPF), which assigns “high performing” or “high quality” ratings to schools. This has resulted in exacerbating segregation, has become very costly to maintain, and has benefited a select few families while hurting the majority of students via competitive and demeaning rhetoric around the SPF.
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I am a DPS parent, a classroom and PTA volunteer, and a community leader. I am running for school board for the same reasons I supported the teachers during the strike - I want every student to succeed in learning, our teachers to be able to fulfill their calling as educators, and our community to be included in the decisions of our district.
I am a product of public education, and my mom and grandmother were both teachers. My life has been shaped by an appreciation of public education. My family moved around when I was young (MN, SD, TN, CO), so I have experienced a wide variety of educational settings. I first began school board activism as a junior working to bring student voices to important conversations. High school was also when I first began my efforts to respond to school violence, when I ran the efforts to house Columbine students in our building.
My professional work allows me to serve the community every day. I work alongside a community that seeks to build a home where all belong. We do so through compassion and justice in our outward work, through honest reflection and accountability in our inward work. Through partnerships with Servicios de la Raza, Reading Partners, Family Promise of Greater Denver, Interfaith Alliance, and Together Colorado I am able to be in relationship with experiences outside of my own. These relationships drive my continued work to build community and shift attention and energy to the margins.
In my work throughout the community, I am very aware of the role education plays in equipping people to self advocate, to push back against systems of oppression, and to work as partners for love, acceptance, justice, and hope. I am interested in serving on the school board to bring voice and vote to issues that are known within our communities but not represented in the current board majority.
Every student must be provided the resources they need to be successful in their learning and development. What side of the street you live on should not determine the resources available to you. Every teacher must have access to the resources they need to fulfill their calling to serve our students. This includes classroom resources, a deep team of support and intervention professionals, and culturally responsive curriculum. Our education teams must also fully represent the diversity of our students. We must recruit, hire, and retain teachers of color for the benefit of every student and our system as a whole.
We must also have the difficult conversations necessary to address racial and socio-economic disparities in how we equip our students for success. This is not a problem fundamental to their achievements, but a failure of our system. Cultural competency, foundational bias awareness, and undoing racism work are essential for every adult that works with our students.
We must return dignity to the profession of teaching. Our teachers must be respected, provided leadership they trust and who believe in them, and be compensated adequately- this is what teachers are asking for. Every educational professional, our paraprofessionals, office staff, bus drivers, and facilities staff, as well as our teachers, must be paid a living wage- a living wage that allows them to live in the community where they work. We also must recognize that teacher/staff turnover is not solely a compensation issue.
Recruitment of teachers begins in our current student body, as we encourage our best and brightest to pursue education as a vocation. We must also create pathways for our paraprofessionals to transition into teaching roles, this will also increase the diversity of our teaching staff.
Even the most dedicated of educators can have their spirit broken by lack of resources, support, and recognition. In adjusting district expenditures we must equip our teachers to succeed.
We must reinvest in schools and neighborhoods that serve our lower socioeconomic status students and our students of color by providing more opportunities, enrichments, and extracurricular activities, funded by the district and not by PTAs, and supporting the retention of high quality educators and staff.
Every student deserves an education that engages all of who they are, that builds upon the world they know, that reflects the diversity of their community in history and current events, and that lets them see themselves in the education process. Culturally affirming education requires culturally responsive curriculum, more diversity in our teachers, and learning environments that reflect the communities they serve.
Increased transparency and accountability in district finances are foundational to equitable funding. Equitable funding also requires proactive efforts to listen to the concerns of community and provide in depth information and synthesis of the data behind our decisions.
DPS is capable of offering a quality education to every child, in every school, and must accept the responsibility of doing so through proper funding, teacher development, and community input. At this moment in the DPS journey, we should focus on reinvesting in the schools we already have. Our current schools need our support to better serve students and parents, and I do not see a need for additional charter investments while we are working to meet those needs. Reauthorizations must hold existing charters to the same standards that all of our schools are measured against. Reauthorization is also the time to assess if funds are truly meeting the needs of the students or are serving outside interests.